Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Stanford University


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The Jihad Paradox: Pakistan and Islamist Militancy in South Asia

Journal Article

Paul Kapur - Professor, National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School; Affiliate, CISAC
Sumit Ganguly - Professor, Political Science, and Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations, Indiana University, Bloomington; Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute

Published by
International Security, Vol. 37 no. 1, page(s) 111-141
July 12, 2012


Islamist militants based in Pakistan pose a major threat to regional and international security. Although this problem has only recently received widespread attention, Pakistan has long used militants as strategic tools to compensate for its severe political and material weakness. This use of Islamist militancy has constituted nothing less than a central component of Pakistani grand strategy; supporting jihad has been one of the principal means by which the Pakistani state has sought to produce security for itself. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the strategy has not been wholly disastrous. Rather, it has achieved important domestic and international successes. Recently, however, Pakistan has begun to suffer from a “jihad paradox”: the very conditions that previously made Pakistan's militant policy useful now make it extremely dangerous. Thus, despite its past benefits, the strategy has outlived its utility, and Pakistan will have to abandon it to avoid catastrophe. Other weak states, which may also be tempted to use nonstate actors as strategic tools, should take the Pakistani case as a cautionary lesson.